Year 12 BTEC Engineering students took on the first part of a complex real-world challenge in their first Unit 5 course assignment last week in engineering module delivered by Ark Data Centres.
As part of the Digital Futures Programme, which focuses on engineering requirements around the data services industry, the assignment asked the students to evaluate and produce ideas for sustainable cooling systems for data centres.
This is a very real issue because the IT equipment within data centres use an incredible amount of power – an estimated 1% of the world’s electricity goes towards powering them! As power translates to heat; efficient and sustainable temperature and humidity management is critical for any data centre.
Ark Data Centres, one of UTC Heathrow’s Digital Futures partners, are industry leaders in sustainable data centres, so it was with great pleasure the school welcomed Brad Boundy, Technical Compliance Manager who leads the delivery of unit 5 for Ark, and Steve Ross, Ark’s Head of Technical Operations, to deliver the first of three sessions around the topic, which will go towards their BTEC Engineering qualification.
The students were briefed: they worked for Ark Data Centres and their fictional boss had asked them to design a cooling concept for a data centre at Ark’s Cody Park campus. As well as being workable, the cooling system had to be sustainable. This created the discussion starting point – why is sustainability a big thing in a data centre?
The students looked at a variety of options including solar, wind, hydro and tidal, weighing up which would work well at the Cody Park campus.
Brad Boundy explained: “The students quickly realised that tidal was not going to work because Farnborough is sixty kilometres from the sea; hydro isn’t an option as there is no hydroelectric plant in the area and no option to build one. Solar or wind were both viable, the outcome of this is that students investigate the options, describe them and evaluate what’s good and what’s bad.”
The second part of the assignment asked the students to investigate data centre plant and resiliency. Uptime is really important for all data centres; if one goes offline it can have a massive impact on our day-to-day life (this includes anything from government services, academic research, entertainment, banking, shopping, transport, weather forecasting… the list is endless). To achieve this, data centres utilise multiple power supplies to each piece of IT equipment and additional plant so that any item can be maintained without the IT equipment being impacted.
With this in mind, the students were asked to plan out an overview of what they would expect to find in a data centre and how they could set that up to make it maintainable.
The final part of the assignment asks the students to look at four methods of cooling a data centre and evaluate them explaining the pros and cons for each solution and where they would work best.
Brad said: “The end result from this assignment, which will be delivered over three sessions of the academic year, is that the students have designed the basic concept for a data centre cooling solution and will have good understanding of the technologies used within a data centre.”
The students need to be able to write a brief stating, for example: ‘my solution will use this type of solution and to make it maintainable there will be X many of them, the students will then deliver a system topology showing how each piece of plant operates and why it will be resilient and maintainable’.
It’s not an easy assignment, Brad agrees, and that was one of the challenges in writing the course. “Our goal was that the assignment would be easy to understand so that the students have the best opportunity to pass and that hopefully we achieve a large percentage of merits and distinctions, but the students have to work for.”
Brad is looking forward to going back in for the second assignment, especially as teaching is a new challenge which is outside of his comfort zone.
“As well as making the students better engineers, I also believe it’s making us better at what we’re doing. I’m used to thinking about data centres as a data centre engineer would, but the students don’t have the constraints that I have. Anything is possible in their mind, isn’t it? They don’t have the learnt constraints that I have. And some of the ideas that they suggest, could be used in a data centre in the future.”
Brad is also clear about the opportunities awaiting any student who does decide to follow a career path in data centre engineering: “Over the next fuve years we need to double our engineering workforce, creating opportunities for people to get into data centre engineering and progression for those already working in it.
“So, the merits are clear – it’s an expanding industry that is continuing to grow providing more and more opportunities for career development and there’s lots of engineering kit to play with as well!”
To find out more about Ark Data Centres go to arkdatacentres.co.uk or follow them on LinkedIn